Dilemmas: Rosie or Robert - which one should Sheila betray?: Readers prove to be unanimous and businesslike about last week's poser, and are now invited to consider how they would tackle difficulties with a tombstone tribute

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WHERE does loyalty lie between friends? When Rosie comes to dinner full of plans for her new business, Robert offers to raise pounds 5,000 for her. The problem is that he has a disastrous record in business affairs, yet this could be his one chance of success. Does Sheila, a good friend of them both, warn Rosie, in which case she betrays Robert? Or does she keep her mouth shut, and betray her loyalty to Rosie, who should be warned? The dilemma is whom to betray.

No one suggested the most common way out- the anonymous letter or awful phone call that starts: 'So, you're going into business with Robert, are you? Well, I'm saying nothing.' (About the loudest warning anyone can give.) 'Why?' Rosie would cry. And the friend replies: 'No, this is between you and Robert. The last thing I want to do is betray old friends . . .' and so on.

Quite a sensible cop-out, however, comes from A S Playfair of Cambridge. Warn Rosie, but in a roundabout way. 'Make her see how serious is the matter of starting a new business. Then move further and intimate how very serious it would be if failure attended. Only dependable assistance and dependable financial backing can be acceptable. Rosie needs to inquire of, and be guided by, an expert. A bank or lawyer would soon discover any flaws in the project or the proposed partner. Then any fault-finding or veto would come from an outsider.' Apart from a nave faith in the ability of banks and lawyers, I like the general drift.

But no, she must be warned more directly, says Michael Foulds from Rosyth. 'In my experience, the worst of all accusations is: why did you not warn me? Mind you, a quick glance at Robert's CV would be telling, and no doubt Rosie would require that.'

A man from North Warwickshire advises from bitter experience. Told by a friend on the point of despair that his business was being dragged down because of liabilities for past mistakes, he ensured that the pounds 6,000 he offered to bail him out be used properly by insisting on co-signing the cheques. This, in effect, made him a partner, and he is now sinking in an avalanche of his friend's debts. So Sheila must warn Rosie in case she loses more than her business by taking on Robert as a partner.

David Butler wrote from Paris: 'Sheila must be honest with Rosie. But there's a solution. Robert's pounds 5,000 can buy him a small stake in the business. He's not entitled to be a partner. He can be a small, benign shareholder. It will be in his interest to look for business opportunities for Rosie, since his shares will grow in value. But his unreliable hands can be kept off the steering wheel.'

Looking at it another way, Simon Carse of West Sussex said: 'Were she an L-driver and Robert offered to help get her on the road, his trail of wrecked cars would evidence his unsuitability.' In other words, if life and death were the issue, there'd be no argument about warning Rosie.

Anne Crocker of Bath, who also responded to last week's dilemma, said that the fact that Sheila and Rosie were at school together made a crucial difference to where Sheila's loyalties lay. 'Friends chosen among colleagues at the workplace are likely to prove the most reliable, balanced, tried and tested, staunch and true allies in our whole lives,' she says. 'School friendships that endure are the earliest of this category and so Sheila's first loyalty is to Rosie.'

One of the most sensible letters was from Vanessa Dunmore of Wakefield, who contributed so wisely last week. If she's not a trained counsellor, my name's Jiminy Cricket. (Maybe she should be given a handicap in future - no use of the words 'blame', 'self', 'responsibility' or 'hidden agenda', for instance.)

Her advice is for Sheila to ring Rosie and have an investigative conversation about the matter. There is, she says, no point in warning Rosie if she has already changed her mind. Then Sheila should ask if she really needs the money so quickly - couldn't she raise it herself? Wouldn't it be better, considering she's done all the work so far? If after all this, Rosie is still determined to go ahead with Robert 'then Sheila has some obligation to warn her. If Rosie went ahead with the venture and later discovered Robert's past record of failure, Rosie must accept responsibility herself for not doing enough preliminary checks. But without doubt in life, people seek others to blame.' Rosie would blame Sheila and Sheila would feel guilty.

'Therefore, Sheila should stress to Rosie that Robert and his wife are close friends whom she has known for a long time, but that, unfortunately, Robert has been unsuccessful in business in the past. She should suggest to Rosie that she thinks closely about him becoming her partner, but counter this with a list of his good qualities. Perhaps make a philosophical point such as 'Maybe this venture will be the one'. Overall, the situation is one in which people have to make assessments based on information, instead of rushing to state something that isn't required. I am sure this particular case wasn't whether Rosie should be warned about Robert, but whether Rosie should be warned about herself.'

I like her interpretation, I think it's right, but in the end I just can't resist Doreen Potts of Oxford's fiendishly cunning solution, one that could surely only have been dreamt up by a woman.

'All Sheila has to say, in the nicest possible way, is: 'Oh, Rosie, it will be lovely if you and Robert can make a go of this - I do like you all so much and he deserves a bit of success for a change. It will be a very good thing to have someone in with you who's been through the mill a bit and knows the pitfalls. Jolly good luck to you both]'.'

This generous statement would be best made in front of Robert and his wife, so that Rosie may decode the subtext while reading the expressions on their faces. 'Deserves a bit of success for a change'; 'Jolly good luck to you both]' Ouch] Doreen, I'm ashamed of you. But your subtle answer makes you, I have to say, into some kind of genius. The beauty of it is that it is all accomplished so cleanly and openly. What a friend to have. And what an enemy, too, I bet.

PS. A late answer from Elizabeth Watkins to the problem about the missing pounds 20 and the cleaner. Pretend to be confused and ask the suspect to find the money you 'lost'. This worked for her in a hotel when a colleague had his briefcase stolen. Furious and upset, he accused everyone and was taken to have a talk with the manager. In the meantime, Elizabeth asked the almost certain culprit: 'Please do look in his rETHER write erroroom once more. He is so excited, he can't see properly.' The briefcase was immediately 'found'.

WOULD ALICE MAKE YOUR MOTHER TURN IN HER GRAVE?

Your mother has died and you, your father, brothers and sisters have decided to chip in for a gravestone. Your siblings live abroad and don't care much what goes on it.

Now you discover that your father has commissioned a stonemason to engrave a design and poem dreamt up by Alice, a friend of your mother's. Though she kept in touch, your mother had begun to detest Alice, partly because of her political beliefs and partly because she has a treacherous streak. Now you suspect Alice has designs on your father; she has certainly played an enormous role in comforting him at a time when he is completely grief-stricken, and relieved to have someone to help him to take decisions.

Your mother was independent, unsentimental, agnostic and a champion of equal rights. The design consists of a posy of flowers with a rabbit peeping 'twixt the leaves, and the poem starts: 'Oh, Lord, protect your loving child, Who loved all creatures meek and mild.' Alice believes this reflects your mother's kindness and concern for the underdog. You feel she would turn in her grave if she thought Alice had anything to do with the stone. But you don't want to hurt your father at this difficult time. What do you do?

Send your suggestions to Virginia Ironside, Features Department, the Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB; fax 071-956-1739, by Tuesday morning.

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